Presenters discuss NGA partnerships, maritime domain awareness, and more NRO perspectives on commercial imagery
Government leaders shared insights and business opportunities Tuesday afternoon at the Government Pavilion Stage in the GEOINT 2019 exhibit hall, sponsored by AT&T.
- Visit Trajectory on Location to watch videos of all the sessions from the 2019 GEOINT Symposium.
NGA Leaders on Shifting Missions and the Importance of Partnerships
By Rob Pegoraro
Changing missions at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) doesn’t mean abandoned priorities or waning partnerships, according to two agency leaders.
Jennifer Daniels, associate director for enterprise, and Maj. Gen. Charles Cleveland, associate director for operations, gave a discussion on, “Operations & Interoperability: Fueling the GEOINT Enterprise.”
Cleveland noted how NGA’s work has shifted. On the military side, it’s pivoting from counter-terrorism back to “great-power competition;” on the civilian side, its products have become increasingly vital in areas such as humanitarian assistance.
But, Daniels added, support for the warfighter still comes first. “Lives are on the line; people do what they need to do,” she said.
Cleveland added that work remains to be done to ensure NGA insights help all those customers: “We have got to be able to reach all the way out to that person at the DMZ or sitting in Afghanistan.”
America’s allies must remain among those customers, Daniels said after nearly all phones in the audience blared simultaneously with flash-flood warnings—a fortuitous reminder of the importance of timely intel. “We start with Five Eyes, we don’t start with NOFORN,” she said.
Later, she answered a question about whether NGA would start charging allies and partners for shared imagery with one word: “No.”
Their talk wrapped up with two reminders regarding the value of unclassified information. Cleveland admitted he didn’t know if NGA had an unclassified report on China’s Belt and Road Initiative but said the agency would fix that if necessary to ensure its insights get “the widest dissemination.”
And Daniels answered a question about incorporating publicly-available data into classified NGA reports with a common refrain: “I want all of the information,” she said. “I don’t care where it comes from.”
Securing the Sea
By Matt Alderton
Panelists Tuesday afternoon sounded the alarm on the importance of maritime domain awareness, which the International Maritime Organization (IMO) defines as “the effective understanding of anything associated with the maritime domain that could impact security, safety, the economy, or the marine environment.”
As for the maritime domain itself: The National Strategy for Maritime Security said it encompasses “all areas and things of, on, under, relating to, adjacent to, or bordering on a sea, ocean, or other navigable waterway, including all maritime-related activities, infrastructure, people, cargo, and vessels and other conveyances.”
“With that definition, not only does [maritime domain awareness] include the 71 percent of the Earth’s surface covered by water, but it also includes all the adjacent land,” said panel moderator Nicole Pilkus, NGA’s deputy director for maritime safety. “Given that, the importance of this topic cannot be overstated.”
That became abundantly clear during the subsequent discussion, titled “Collaboration in Space for International Global Maritime Awareness.” The two panelists—Guy Thomas, science advisor to the multinational Maritime Security Center of Excellence, and Piotr Malinowski, head of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency’s Information Fusion Centre—took turns describing the scale of maritime security challenges around the world. They advocated for what they consider the only practical solution: a global maritime awareness system under which multiple nations will collaborate to finance and deploy shared space-borne assets that can be tasked toward maritime problems such as piracy, illegal fishing, smuggling, terrorism, and migration.
“[Maritime domain awareness] is not a national security problem; it is an international security problem,” declared Thomas, who said advances in commercial satellites and connectivity have finally made a global system feasible—if only nations could invest the time, effort, and resources needed to seek and find common ground (or water, as it were). “Technology is the easy part. It’s how you make everybody work together and solve this problem that’s the tough part. But it’s well worth the effort and we need to press on.”
Procuring the Future
By Matt Alderton
The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) isn’t exactly known for open doors. So, when it puts out a welcome mat, people notice.
That’s what happened in January, when the agency issued—on Twitter and Facebook, no less—a request for information (RFI) seeking “a greater understanding of the current and future capabilities of commercial electro-optical (EO) imagery providers.” Across the GEOINT Community, heads turned and ears perked. Intrigued, commercial imagery providers wanted to know more.
Those with questions received answers Tuesday at the GEOINT Symposium, where Peter Muend, director of NRO’s Commercial Systems Program Office, gave a talk titled, “NRO and Commercial Systems for GEOINT.”
During the presentation, Muend took the audience on a tour of NRO’s new commercial imagery acquisition strategy, which stems from the recent transition of commercial imagery acquisition responsibilities within the Intelligence Community to NRO from NGA. Though the latter has passed the buck in terms of procurement, it continues to write requirements for acquired imagery. And the requirements leave no doubt: To satiate its growing appetite for satellite imagery, the IC must take advantage of every available resource—including commercial.
Against that backdrop, NRO issued the aforementioned RFI, the results of which it revealed at the GEOINT Symposium, where Troy Meink, leader of NRO’s Geospatial Intelligence Directorate, announced that NRO had awarded three commercial imagery study contracts to BlackSky Global, Maxar Technologies, and Planet. As Muend subsequently outlined on Tuesday, those contracts will help NRO assess the companies’ capabilities and could give way in as little as six months to full-blown procurement contracts.
During a combination of prepared remarks and audience Q&A, Muend walked prospective industry partners through long-term plans. His principal message, however, was as simple: “Where it makes sense to acquire commercial imagery, we will buy it.”
Seeking expanded agility, collaboration, and innovation, the NGA reimagines its acquisition strategy.